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García Márquez, Gabriel

magic hundred village literature

(Colombian, 1928– )

Gabriel García Márquez was born in Aracataca, a small town in Colombia, and educated at a Jesuit college in Bogotá. He became a journalist at the age of 18, writing for liberal papers in South America, and moved to Europe seven years later in order to work for the Liberal El Espectador. Here he rose to controversy and fame with the exposé of a Colombian naval disaster in 1955. García Márquez had always written creatively, but it was the recognition that literature can—and in his opinion should—carry political and social comment that led to his greatest works. By 1982 he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

García Márquez occupies a crucial place in the history of twentieth-century literature. One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) has been hailed as one of the most important examples of a mode of writing which has come to be known as magic realism. Seen as a way of compressing huge historical events into a single novel, magic realism has also made it possible to speak of forbidden issues, such as political oppression. Using comedy, pathos, and, most importantly, a narrative which requires a constant suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, García Márquez wrote about his country's troubled history through the eyes of a single family, in a way that is accessible and enjoyable. It tells the story of the self-contained fictional village, Macondo, which had first appeared in 1955 in his novella, Leaf Storm (tr. 1972). One Hundred Years begins with the arrival at the village of a gypsy called Melquiades, who introduces new ideas and objects, such as a magnet, to the wide-eyed villagers. Prior to this, the villagers had been content with their lot, and oblivious to the world outside. Inevitably, the knowledge that there is something outside the confines of the village leads to corruption and change. José Arcadio Buendía is the main character, in whose hands this knowledge both creates and destroys; his wife Ursula quietly, and ultimately in vain, trying to limit the trouble brewing in José's laboratory.

If One Hundred Years seems too long to start with, you could try his novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981) in which innocence and experience are pitted against each other. It narrates the appearance in a small South American town of Bayardo San Roman, a wealthy businessman in search of a wife. You could also look at The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), a brutal account of a military dictatorship, and the effect throughout society of political corruption; or Of Love and Other Demons (1994) which deals with superstition, madness, and decay. Do not be put off by the apparent seriousness of his subject matter: above all, his stories are lyrical, funny, and deeply moving.

Isabel Allende, Günter Grass, Mario Vargas Llosa. See MAGIC REALISM  SB

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